Sunday, October 23, 2016

Process Post: 'In a World'

Alright - after my long foray into how I made a movie, it's back to process posts, where I take a detailed look into how I made a specific painting. I'll be picking up from my last process post which was...BACK IN FEBRUARY 2015?!?

Oh boy. I've a lot to catch up on. Luckily, since then, I've been doing a lot of painting and sketches so I'll be covering all that and more in future posts. Today, I'll be focusing on In A World, seen above.

This one is an interesting painting for a number of reasons, both good and bad. First, it was created in a completely unplanned manner. I was on a flight to, or from San Francisco, or Cleveland. I can't really remember. But it was a work trip and I brought a sketchbook to just play around with during the flight. After a few hours and getting motivated by the person next to me who was watching what I was doing, I ended up with this sketch in pencil. Ignore the clouds at the top, it was just me playing around with what I saw.

It was some kind of creature flying in the air because of obvious inspirational reasons (airplane, flying, clouds, etc - aren't I creative?!)

I quickly scanned it and colored it, which brought me here (ignore the floating foliage near the creature). Note that I added a few elements, the clouds, the plants, and the creature's scepter to add more balance to the picture as a whole.

At this point, there was a ton of back and forth. I'll just show you the final version again and talk about what I had to keep shifting back and forth.

First, the outlines.

Outlines is something I've always had a ton of trouble with. Sometimes I want completely black outlines akin to a comic, sometimes I want thick outlines that are darker, more saturated versions of what's being outlines. And most recently, I've played with light outlines that more just accentuate what's already there (which is likely the more correct decision, as that's the point of outlines).

Here, however, I have something else to consider - the original sketch's outlines. These are pencil/pen outlines that add a lot of texture to the drawing. Coupled with some of the other textural elements that the paper brought (see the clouds on the upper left hand corner), I thought keeping those elements intact would add a bit of an interesting flair to the piece.

Then I moved on to the bottom part of the image. I wanted to give the image a larger sense of depth, a sense that we were looking up at the creature. So I played around with the bottom foliage a lot, shifting the positioning and the colors. Ultimately, I took a little technique from some images I had seen: the blur tool.

It's a technique digital artists often employ to represent movement or depth. It's a camera function, not a painting function, bringing elements out of focus in order to further pinpoint focus on non-blurred elements. What I wanted to do was blur the plants and foliage and make the character much more in focus.

Here, I played around with the Gaussian blur tool, shifting how much the plants were blurred. Ultimately, I don't think it worked out for a number of reasons.

1) The blur doesn't add much.

There's no reason to try to add more focus to this character using the blur function. The character is clearly the element a viewer is drawn to because of the negative space around it, so a blur doesn't do much.

2) The blur is distracting.

The blur looks so different from the rest of the picture, which is more painterly and very non-digital because it's a mixed media piece (both pencils/inks and digital coloring).

3) The blur is not very well-done.

The blur would look better if it was done better (duh). The reason I highlight this is that it's done digitally and it's very obviously a digital technique. If I tried to apply a painterly technique and blur it manually (which I don't know if I could do, really), it would blend in better.

While I took this time to semi-crap on this piece, I like the rest of the piece in general and overall, looking at it again, I'm really happy with it. The character feels really original, despite taking from a lot of inspiration, I love the clouds, and the colors are a little bit off from my usual color palette but familiar enough that I was able to paint comfortably with it. The more I look at it, the more I also enjoy the feeling it brings. A strange sense of wonder and discovery. It works for me. Would I try the blur technique again? Yes, but in more subtle and careful ways. I'd like to practice with it a little more before using it in a final image and I'd also work on painting the blur rather than applying a blur. In other images, I've been paying attention to how other artists use and apply blur. Hopefully by next time, it'll work out better.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How I Made a Movie: Part 6 of 6 - Fear. It's always Fear

Previously on part 5
I had finished editing the movie...
It was, in every way done...
but I still did nothing with it...

After I had finished the movie, I let out a tentative breath. It was a relief but there was still a bit of hesitation. For some reason, the rewarding joy that follows the end of every project was missing here. This project took so much more out of me than any painting, piece of writing, or performance. I guess it was partly due to my insecurity because there was so much I had to do on the fly, with little knowledge, and very little preparation.

So maybe it's not that surprising, in hindsight, that I was scared to show it to people. I was scared to release it to the public. Simply put, I was just scared.


Well, this is a much bigger problem, one exacerbated by my own doing. With any project, there comes a period I like to call the fraud period, or 'impostor syndrome' as it's known to others. It manifests itself most strongly during my illustration work. At some point, when I sit down to continue to paint - I look at what I've done and I think any number of the following things:

'This is awful'
'Why would anyone ask me to make something for them?'
'Wow, I suck'
'There are so many people who are better than me'
'Can I even accept money for this?'
'My client is gonna be so disappointed when I'm finished with this'
'I'll never get another commission'
'I should give up'
'Why do I do this?'

and so on.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh and cruel to myself, I am. And there's nothing good that really comes out of this. It's an awful funk that is an unfortunate part of my process. But, because most of the time, especially recently, my illustration work has a stronger sense of responsibility attached (someone is expecting it, I'm being paid for it, or I signed a contract for it), I have a real motivation and sense of duty to finish it. If it was my own piece, there is a very real chance that I would give up on it. Hell, I have a folder full of half-finished paintings because sometimes, that voice inside myself is too much, I believe what it says, and I stop working.

Most of the time though, I can rationalize the voice shut. This is done with some of the following retorts:

'It's mid-process, it'll look fine in the end'
'It's not supposed to look good right now'
'There is no 'better' when it comes to art/illustration' (this is a half lie I tell myself)
 'They came to you for a reason'
'They might not be able to get someone better'
'This is how you keep learning'

and so on.

So how was this relevant to my lack of action after I finished the movie?

Well...there were a number of issues at hand.

First, I thought the movie wasn't great. My expectations were insanely high. When I thought of the final result for the project, I expected something akin to a contemporary comedy show. You know, the kind with millions of dollars and hundreds of people behind it. Reasonable expectations.

Second, I thought I had failed everyone involved in the project and I was scared that they would see it and hate it. This (and all the reasons) all go back to my unreasonably high expectations.

Third, I had told so many people about the project for such a long time that I was embarrassed to show it to them. This was my fault completely. When I first started the project, I wanted to insert continuous motivation for me to finish the project because I thought there was a real possibility that I wouldn't and I wanted to avoid that. So I told almost everybody about the project so they would ask me about it and because I would hate to then say 'we never finished it.' Social pressure is real and I wanted to use it to my advantage.

Unfortunately, it backfired and came the other way. Instead, I was embarrassed to release it because I had been talking about it for so long.

I didn't really know what to do until I finally said it out loud to someone and they gave me an insanely good piece of advice. One that any creative could use and one that, honestly, I knew and for some reason didn't apply what was my problem at the time. Funny how blind you can be to your own lessons sometimes. Here it is in big big letters.


By the way, that post-it is on my wall, where I keep nearly 20 post-its on a variety of different things - mostly on life lessons-ish stuff. I'll likely write about them one day.

This helped and was extremely eye opening. It really put my first issue, that of expectations, to rest. I was comparing myself to work that takes an exponential amount of effort to create. That just doesn't happen given the resources and people involved in my project. So, how could I even expect what's sometimes done with 100x more people and money?

Then I thought about how selfish I was being to everyone who worked just as hard on the project. They would want to see a final product - how could I be the only person saying "no, it didn't meet my expectations, so no one's going to get to see anything they made"

And lastly, regarding the expectations I set for everyone - 1) they probably don't care that much, and 2) the ones that do will support me. Even if they didn't like it, they would either be nice about it or offer constructive criticism.

I was making a huge deal of the project when it didn't need to be.

So I released it. People told me how much they liked it. How much they laughed. How good it was. What my next project was going to be. If anyone thought it was awful, I didn't hear it. If I'm ever to be a success in a very public-facing medium, I should cherish this moment as people you don't know often love to tell you how much they didn't like something.

Regardless, my biggest takeaway was that I need to have a better perspective of what my expectations should be and I should be less harsh to myself. When I started out in illustration I knew I sucked. I knew that it was a process and I would get better with each painting, learning new things along the way. I never expected perfection and I never expected to create illustrations like a seasoned professional would create. Because that's unreasonable. So why did I think, on my first try, knowing nearly as little as possible, that I would create something that could parallel what hundreds of people spend years perfecting?

So with that, the movie was released. You can, again, watch it here. I'm incredibly happy and proud of what we made. I'm very thankful to everyone who contributed in a variety of ways. I'm already thinking of the next one - it'll get easier I hope. At the very least, I won't be re-learning this lesson again.

I hope.

Thanks for reading - I promise the next post will talk about illustration!